tv Tavis Smiley WHUT October 26, 2011 7:00pm-7:30pm EDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. to make conversation with nine out -- nile rodgers. he helped to define music back in the 1970's with hits like good times, the latter the basis for the first big hit of rap music. his personal ups and downs are the subject of a memoir "le freak." we are glad you joined us. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every
day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic e at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: i am pleased to welcome, nile rodgers to this program. he helped define music in the 1970's with a string of classic
hits. his life has been defined by some incredible moments and numerous twists and turns. his new memoir is called "le freak." i apologize in advance that i did not have enough time to do justice to your life. you have lived such an incredible life. you have done so many things. i'm glad you are here. >> i am thrilled to be here. you have no idea. tavis: let me start, when you have done so many things it is hard to know where to start. but i want to start with the music. behind every song there is a story. rescissory family television, it is a great story for how the song freak out came to be. tell the story of how it came to be a hit.
>> i will tell you how it came into existence. grace jones had picked up on our early songs and she had decided that she wanted my partner and myself to produce her new album. she says, she has a weird? sen. come through the back door and tell them that your personal guests of mind. you need to see my shows you can understand who i am. we go when we knock on her door and say we are personal guests of a grace and jones. the guy slams the door in our faces. he says f off. we thought, maybe she left our names at the front door. we swam through this massive sea of humanity and get the guys attention and tell him we are personal friends. we realize it was an exercise in
futility. i lived around the corner. music is our recreation and livelihood's so we started jamming on a groove. we started this anger -- saying "f studio 54." my partner pulled this number on me -- you know this "sh" is happening. and we know we could not have that. so we changed the title to "freak off" thinking it was a good euphemism. i was like, when you and take acid. bernard had no concept of what i was talking about.
i said you know the new dance of the freak. his kids were doing that. he said you're freaking out having a good time. that is what happened. >> freak out is the result of being told to f off. believe it or not, because of the facebook, the gentleman who did this six months ago when i was turning in the book. he called me and apologized. he said i was the kid. i knew he was telling the truth is. i said, ok, it is cool. had we gotten in, the song would not have happened. tavis: he did not ask for royalties, did he? >> of course not. in our business -- tavis: you know how the business works. it is not just the stuff we know
you did. what blows me away is the stuff you wrote or produced and i did not know that you did. let's dance, and david bowie. >> that was my lifeline back into the music business. when the disco sucks phenomenon hit, we put out our last hit which was "good times." right after that we followed up with diana ross's "i'm coming out." after that, i had six flops in a row. then i met and david bowie and a club and we started talking. i knew he was friends with looser vandross -- luther vandross. he told me how much she liked jazz.
it rescued my career. after that i did inxs, madonna. tavis: you produced like a virgin. >> the biggest album of my life. tavis: for a guy who is classically trained, what to you make of the different john norris -- genres you have succeeded in? >> what story make of them? i love music in general. when i was younger, i was not certain what kind of music i was going to go into. it was my partner bernard edwards who helped me developed my funky jazz style. i started out with sesame street. that was my first gig at of high school. tavis: these pbs stories kill me.
>> this was the second here. the stars of sesame street were bob and susan on camera. peter -- was a manager at the apollo theater. they had something like 30 axinite. i addition from sesame street. that led me to new york city and bernard edwards and the rest of my career. tavis: you are only hearing today on michael lot of folks who were taken out by trucks. you're here because of an incident in an elevator this saved your life. >> i lived in a building york city across from lincoln center. one night i was out partying all night which is what i did every night back in those days. but somehow i pushed the number 14 instead of 28.
it was one of those buildings it went from 12th to 14th. my heart stopped. i had fallen at of the elevator and basically i was dead. the staff, the way they empty the garbage is to start at the top and work their way down. had i got into the 20th floor, i would have fallen down dead on my landing. i fell on the 14th floor just as the janitors were coming by. i do not think they did not amount but they were able to revive me enough for the paramedics. that is for the hospital was. the revived me but my heart stopped eight times in one night. once it would start it would not continue beating.
finally they were filling out the death certificate. they had given up. my heart started going again. the orderly said we have a live one over here. they took me into the hallway and kept the monitoring machine on me. the doctor told me the story. tavis: this is a strange to segue, but given that you were were thosees, there who said you were killing diana ross's career. he said this is going to be the death of her career. if you let them and the to this kind of thing, this song. motown does not want to put it out. they sit on that for a while. eventually something happens. it put it out. the >> back in the day, all of
the music in the underground germinated in these clubs. one of the coolest was a transvestite club. when they happen to go into there and i was in the bathroom and i happen to notice on either side of me there were diana ross impersonators. i could not laugh because i did not want to offend anybody. i said to my partner, i am in the bathroom doing my thing and there are a bunch of diana ross impersonators. since we are aware of the way the gay community feels about her, what if we did a song where dan acknowledge turf alignment with the gay community? he said that was a great idea. we wrote the song "i'm coming out."
he happen to be the number one d j all throughout america. she played the record for him. he was rather worldly so when he heard the lyrics, and he knew that was a catch phrase. he told diana and she came back to the studio almost in tears and nastiest why we or trying to ruin her career. she says, are people going to think i am gay? this is the only time my advice to an artist. i looked for in the face and said order you talking about? -- looked her in the face and said, what are you talking about? i said you are the black queen. who could think such a thing? eventually the record shot to number one along with upside down. the biggest record of her career. last night at my book signing,
one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment was one i saw suzanne in the crowd. it was suzanne who singlehandedly took care of us throughout the whole ordeal. the entire motown company was against the record. we tried to explain to them that it was not her last record but her next record. that is what we do. we do the next record. this is the logical step for this woman to make because of all she has done. this encapsulates her whole career. i am an independent woman. i am leaving low temp. -- motown. that allowed her to go to rca. tavis: not only does it bring diana back, becoming her biggest record, it is hot enough that years later a guy named biggie
smalls and puff and that sapling it. >> i was on an airplane. did john singleton and brett me.er put headphones on and i hear "i don't know what they --" they said it was puff's new record. i thought it was a genius. and i thought ca-ching! i love it. ever since rapper's delight, people were worried they would be sued. the only problem we had was a they took our music well before
-- it was the first with sampling on them. for the television audience, when we did good times, the sugar hill gang sampled are strings but they also use our baselines. it was an interpretation of the thing. we sued them because it was a copyright infringement. i cannot stick your show and put it on my network. [laughter] what happened, all we wanted to do was ask permission. dow iraq crystal light was only available on 12 inch -- rapper's delight was only available on 12 pence. inch.
tavis: how was an interpretation -- interpreted my people in the industry? there were a lot of people in the process of samplings who did not get the respect for the money until people started putting their foot down. as one of the early guys, how did you get impacted? >> it was a little bit tough because we were suing powerful guys. we had to go it alone. the fact that i am sitting here talking and i do not have broken legs, which went up against tough people. at the end of the day, i think that cooler heads prevailed and it was the type of thing where the record was so profitable. no one had seen profit like that. i am sure the first royalty checks word $3 million in the days were $3 million was a lot
of money. it is not like now where young artists spend $3 million on this and that. in those days, that was like having a $15 million. at the end of the day, everybody realized it was the right thing to do. it was a new paradigm we were starting to discover. it has now become the bedrock of our and the music. -- r & b music. tavis: we were talking about our mutual friend quincy jones. your name came up in conversation. he sends his regards. he said he gave you some advice that you did not take. if it is connected to the sound score for one of my favorite films of all time, everybody knows that i love "coming to america." and you did the music for it.
tell me what to quincy told you. >> he said, whatever you do, the score is cool. make sure you get a of the songs. what do you mean? that is where the money is. if you produce a few hits, it will be great. i wrote songs that were comedic in the film. "just let your soul glow." eddie and arsenio were dying to make that into a single. i had to look eddie -- he probably still has not forgiven me. they nailed to those parts so well. imagine if we had a music video
with and singing that song. i was taking myself so seriously because i had a chance to do a symphony orchestra. some of the greatest african and latin percussionists and all of the other people i brought on. i was standing with like 150 people. don't destroy my sound track. it was a muted -- musical comedy. for a black man to get that kind of responsibility was incredible to me. and did not want to cheapen my song by having you guys make a joke out of it. it would have been brilliant. and what would i have gotten paid. oh, man. tavis: you did the score for the film. i'm sure you have seen in countless times. what tune make of what they did? >> i think it is truly one of
the greatest performances ever put together on the screen. arsenio does not get the crops. even when they are in the barbershop. semi is a great role. it wants to go to the waldorf- astoria when the king is going to punish them. and bathe him. [laughter] it was a brilliant film. what was interesting that many people do not know, it was a difficult film to make. eddie had seen -- is the way the story goes. eddie had seen the orson welles film or he narrates the
quatrains of nostra thomas and predicts the end of the world. the way that i scored the movie, and i was living on the paramount lot of scoring and dailies. they would shoot them, develop them and send them to me and i would have to do it right adam the can. because he wanted to leave before the great earthquake. john landis had to know they were in the camps. i had scored that movie -- it was like watching a cartoon. i would reach over and go -- because i did not know what the theme as. they just gave me the film and i would say okay, like when the dog --
i had to look at the film in a holistic way. it was impossible. it put it together in the editing room. they had all this stuff going on. tavis: i would be remiss if i did not in the two minutes i have left give you an opportunity to share what is a moving story for all of us who are fans, the story of bernard passed away. >> we were in japan doing a concert. i was being honored as the producer of the year in april 1996. in japan a company -- smoking is not as taboo resident was in america. it is a 90 minute television special and i bring in different artists.
do alled concerts' to the blocking and all of the shots and figure out that it may be a 20 camera shoot. the third night, it is the final night. the one that is televised. nard was very ill and a doctor examined him and said to have to cancel the show. how can we do that? he said give me a vitamin be shot. he gets it together and somehow we pull through. you can see him pass out on stage. at the end of the night we go to our hotel room. he is supposed to wake up a 6:00 a.m. because he is leaving for america. i knock on the door and he had passed away earlier that night. a powerful part about the story is that at about -- somewhere in the middle of the night had been
thrown out of my bed. i thought was another earthquake. i wound up on the floor and i looked at the clock. it was so terrifying i did not want to go back to sleep. in the dream i had been thrown off the bed. i was holding onto a person's hand. it was like he was then a him -- helium balloon. i let go and he which drifting off. the next day after we discovered his body, i'd reenact the story of what happened. i give him the time that i had this dream of holding this person. he was filling out the death certificate and says, really? he changed the estimated time of death to the time that coincided with my story. he said that was your friend is saying goodbye to you. the doctor said that. the time of death and, one a m
-- 1 a.m. tavis: there are some great stories in this book by nile rodgers. "le freak." it is a fascinating read about the lies -- life and legacy of one of the great producers and artists of our time. i have been delighted to have him on the program. >> it is a pleasure to be with you. tavis: until next time, keep the faith. ♪ freak out >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with anita hill.
>> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tav smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is fd o economic ovis in workingd remove obstacles to economic emweenrmant one conversation at a time. nationwide ion your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. t